Federal District Court Judge Rejects Decision Denying Animal Legal Defense Fund Intervention In Animal Welfare Act Enforcement Proceeding

In a precedent-setting case in which we are assisting the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Judge Christopher Cooper of the federal district court for D.C. has ruled in favor of ALDF in a challenge to a decision by a Judicial Officer of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to deny ALDF intervention to participate as a party in an enforcement proceeding brought by the USDA against the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Iowa.  ALDF had argued that it was an “interested person” entitled by the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §555(b), to participate in the proceeding which the USDA brought after ALDF sued the agency for once again renewing the license of the Zoo despite a history of non-compliance with AWA standards.  In rejecting the Judicial Officer’s decision denying intervention, Judge Cooper found that “ALDF’s demonstrated interest in the welfare of the zoo’s animals falls squarely within the scope of the USDA enforcement proceeding,” and that the Judicial Officer had failed to provide any basis for the conclusion that ALDF’s participation would disrupt “the orderly conduct” of the proceeding.  ALDF sought to participate to provide the agency voluminous evidence regarding the Zoo’s violation of various AWA standards – evidence that had been produced in discovery in a case brought against the Zoo under the Endangered Species Act but which the agency had declined to include in the record of the AWA case.  Judge Cooper vacated the Judicial Officer’s denial of intervention and remanded the case for an explanation as to how ALDF’s limited participation would disrupt the proceeding, which is currently ongoing.  To our knowledge, this is the first decision by a federal court recognizing that intervention by an animal protection group in an AWA enforcement proceedings may be warranted.  A copy of the decision can be found here.